Maddow to Sandra Day O'Connor: How Did it Feel to Elect George W. Bush?

March 5th, 2013 7:40 PM

Hundred years hence, liberals will still be whining about Bush v. Gore.

In a television appearance as inexplicable as first lady Michelle Obama announcing the Oscar for best picture, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor was among Rachel Maddow's guests last night, plugging her new book, "Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court." (video clip after page break)

Maddow asked O'Connor about a photo in the book taken Jan. 20, 2001, showing O'Connor and her husband, along with two of her colleagues on the Supreme Court, then-chief justice William Rehnquist and Antonin Scalia, waiting for George W. Bush's first inauguration to begin --

O'CONNOR: On those days, the justices typically have space over in the Capitol building where they can sit around until their presence is required and so that was what was going on.

MADDOW: So those are long days where there's a lot of waiting?

O'CONNOR: Long days, a lot of waiting.

MADDOW: Is that what we're seeing on your faces in that picture? I ask because obviously it's a momentous ...

O'CONNOR: What page is it on? 

MADDOW: Page 16.

O'CONNOR: Page 16 ...

MADDOW: And so this is about a month after Bush v. Gore was decided ...

O'CONNOR: Yes ... yes ...

MADDOW: ... because that was decided in mid-December 2000 and this was Jan. 20, 2001 ...

O'CONNOR: Well, I think people are just sitting around being a little bit bored, (Maddow, to her credit, laughs) waiting to go out and do something, to move around. I mean, you can see that in all, I can see that in all the faces. There they are just, uh! what do we do now?

Could something more have been involved, Maddow wonders (guilt? regret? horror?) --

MADDOW: Well, how did it feel to you to know that you effectively with your vote, I guess you could say any one of you who were among the five who decided with the majority in Bush v. Gore, had effectively decided who would be the president. How did that feel that day?

O'CONNOR: Well, I don't recall any special feeling (O'Connor saying "feeling" with borderline sarcasm) about it at all. I mean, we just were dealing with cases like we're required to do and that was a dramatic one but it didn't, it didn't cause you to feel different, differently somehow when you were waiting for the inauguration and killing time. (laughs)

In other words, you're reading something in this photo that isn't there. Suffice it to say, O'Connor is unlikely to include any photograph in a book she writes that conveys misgivings about her vote in Bush v. Gore. Maddow tries another tack --

MADDOW: When you saw the tens of thousands of people protesting the inauguration, defying its legitimacy, did it make you feel any differently about the weight of that decision? (All that Bush hatred, no effect at all?)

O'CONNOR: No it didn't. I knew, we all knew it was an important decision for everybody. I mean, you couldn't fail to know that.


After the Supreme Court decided on the case, Gore gave what was arguably his most genuine speech of the campaign, conceding to Bush and asking his supporters to accept the outcome of the election.

"Almost a century and a half ago," Gore said, "Senator Stephen Douglas told Abraham Lincoln who had just defeated him for the presidency, 'Partisan feeling must give way to patriotism. I'm with you, Mr. President, and God bless you.' Well, in that same spirit, I say to President-elect Bush, that what remains of partisan rancor must now be put aside and may God bless his stewardship of this country."

Little of which came to pass, as evidenced by those "tens of thousands" of protesters at Bush's inauguration and the refusal of most liberals to ever accept Bush as a legitimate president. A broad perception of him as chief executive would belatedly come nearly a year after the election and last all of three weeks, between Sept. 11, 2001 and the first bombs falling on al Qaeda and the Taliban. Backbiting from the left came soon after, over the Patriot Act and strategy in Afghanistan, the rationale for war in Iraq, harsh interrogation, surveillance and Gitmo, until a huge swath of left-wingers in this country deluded themselves that George W. Bush was a worse criminal than Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

The attack on 9/11 and threat from radical Islam, a peril that endures to this day, rendered Bush v. Gore a footnote, an historical curiosity, no more significant than Rutherford Hayes winning another contested election in 1876. Unless you're a liberal, because for you, it's been a guiding star ever since.